On Cooking Channel’s Pizza Cuz (Mondays at 9pm ET), Sal Basile and Francis Garcia, owners of NYC’s Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, embark on a mouthwatering exploration of pizza across the country. Devour sat with the two pizza aficionados to find out more about running a pizza empire and the best slices in the world.
What brought you both to the pizza business? Had you worked in restaurants before?
Francis: “We grew up in the restaurant business with a fourth generation restaurant family — our great grandparents’ grandparents’ restaurants. Our mothers, sisters and brothers and all our cousins work in pizza places. But it’s the same thing on my father’s side and his father’s side — they all work in restaurants. It’s in our blood. We tell people pizza sauce pumps through our veins.”
Sal: “Yeah, my dad had me taking out slices when I was ten years old, probably breaking child labor laws!”
You guys are family and best friends. Have there been any challenges working with each other?
Francis: “There are people in my family that I wouldn’t open up a lemonade stand with, you know? So it wasn’t just because we were cousins, I mean me and Sal have a relationship where we’re perfect for each other. I have strong points; he has strong points, but we really seldom butt heads. We work really well together.”
Sal: “And with opening the store, like he always says, the planets really aligned.”
New York has been known for its pizza for a long time — what made you want to open up a pizza place in 2008? What were you determined to do differently?
Francis: “The artichoke pizza I started making at my mom’s restaurant in 2006. What I would do for every table that came in, in their bread basket for a table of four, I would chop up half a slice for a table of four and let them sample it. People would flip out; they would order it on the spot, and they would take it home. My philosophy was in Manhattan we can give it to more people in 2 weeks than we can in Staten Island in 6 months. So that’s what we did. We found a little hole in the wall just to make that pizza, and me and Sal would stand outside everyday handing it to people for three or four days. Then it exploded in our face.”
What’s your go-to slice of pizza?
Sal: “A Sicilian slice, made with tomato sauce, asiago cheese and lots of fresh basil, straight out of the oven, hot, where it burns the roof of your mouth.”
Francis: “A slice of our vodka sauce pizza.”
What’s the most outrageous slice that you ate while filming Pizza Cuz?
Francis: “Most outrageous one was Zante on Mission Street in San Francisco. A couple of Indian guys from Queens went to San Francisco in the early 90s, bought an old school Italian pizzeria, turned it into an Indian restaurant, but kept the ovens. Now they make Indian pizza, and it’s delicious. They make the dough with turmeric, so it comes out yellow. They put down a curried spinach sauce as a foundation, they add tandoori chicken, baba ghanoush, curried cauliflower, curried garlic, then they cover the whole thing with cilantro and mozzarella on top. It’s out of this world.”
Sal: “It was a little spicy, but yeah, we hadn’t had anything like that before.”
As you traveled across the country in search of awesome pies, what were you looking for? What made these pizzas great?
Francis: “To me what makes a great pizza is the actual person who’s making it. It’s really a craft, and to be a good pizza guy, you gotta know how to bake. You gotta know the temperatures of the doughs, what temperature of water to use when making the doughs. There are a lot of great elements combined to make great pizza, aside from great toppings. It’s experience; it’s people actually caring about what they’re doing.”
Sal: “And a lot of these guys we went to see were very passionate. They had their own neat style of making pizza.”
Any funny moments while filming Pizza Cuz?
Sal: “I was in the water. We were clam farming in Tomales Bay near hog island, and I was going for clams and I tripped and fell in the water. It was freezing!”
Francis: “After we would do the whole spiel with the owners. They would have us talk with the customers to talk to them about the pizza. It was a long day; we were in this place Apizza Scholls for like thirteen hours. I asked this girl who was with her boyfriend eating a slice of sausage pie, ‘What do you think of his sausage?’ They looked at me like I had ten heads, and then it dawned on me what I had said. And I really didn’t mean it — the owner made his own sausage.”
If you weren’t making pizza, you’d be…
Francis: “I would be a Neil Diamond impersonator. It’s the truth. I’m a degenerate karaoke singer. When I retire I want to own a karaoke bar — not to make money really — and the name is going to be Unchained Melody.”
Sal: “I’d be the Heavyweight Champion of the World in boxing, and I’d have my entourage with me. I love boxing.”
Tune in to Pizza Cuz Mondays at 9pm | 8c on Cooking Channel.